Building a winning corporate culture with Export Development Canada

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To Phil Taylor, the catalyst for joining IABC Ottawa was simple.

“If you’re going to run a professional communications shop, then you need to be a member of a professional organization like IABC – it’s as simple as that,” says Taylor.

“You can’t keep up with the industry trends, you can’t stay on top of key movements of personnel within the industry without being a member of something like IABC.”

Taylor is the Manager, External Relations and Chief Corporate Spokesperson with Export Development Canada, Canada’s export credit agency. He oversees a team of four communicators from the headquarters in Ottawa who help to spread the organization’s message about the benefits of exporting from Canada to other countries.

Taylor’s team (along with a sister group, devoted to internal communications) is a corporate member with IABC Ottawa. This helps the organization save on membership fees for employees so they can gain access to skills development and other unique networking opportunities.

To Taylor, it’s a foundational piece of EDC’s commitment to making the organization a great place for employees.

EDC is recognized regularly for the workplace culture it creates. The Crown corporation, which is financially self-sufficient and operates at arm’s length from the Canadian government, annually earns a spot on Canada’s Top 100 Employers list.

“If you’re going to have a high-performing culture then you’ve got to make sure your people are really well taken care of, because the pace and demands of work here require really motivated people. We operate globally and so our communications need to be on point in markets such as China, India, LATAM and throughout Europe. That’s no easy feat for such a small group.”

IABC Ottawa is just one plank in EDC’s corporate culture strategy, Taylor says.

The “EDC way” is a well-articulated set of behaviours the company expects its employees to follow.

“Everyone works off the same songbook so people know how to work together efficiently, which is crucial given the challenging nature of our work,” he says.

They also employ what’s called a “servant model”: managers work to serve employees, not the other way around.

This means a manager’s job is to remove obstacles for employees so they can do their jobs.

“It’s a complete mind flip,” says Taylor. “A lot of leaders who might come to EDC  could find that very challenging because it’s never about the leader. It’s always about the employees because, let’s face it, they do the bulk of the work. That’s certainly true of my team, an incredibly talented and smart group of people. Without them I wouldn’t be talking with you today.”

EDC also heavily emphasizes goal-setting. This allows all employees – from those at the advisory levels to vice-presidents – to see the difference their individual roles are making in the organization’s larger goals.

“For people who desire to perform at a high level, they want to know they’re making a contribution, making a difference,” says Taylor.

EDC stands out in its emphasis on growing employees’ careers. The organization is like many other companies in that it tracks the performance of individual employees against key metrics.

What’s different about EDC, says Taylor, is they also offer a career plan.

Each employee sits down with a manager and develops a plan for where they’d like to end up in five years. This can either be specific – one member of his team is, for example, growing his experience on another team on a temporary basis to write the organization’s annual corporate plan – or it can be left open-ended.

It’s a model Taylor says more organizations would do well to follow. All the templates from which they work are free, and the time commitment is minimal.

But the payoff – in terms of employee retention and commitment – can be big.

“It’s a simple formula in theory: Treat your employees well, give them an opportunity to grow, and they will be very engaged and motivated,” says Taylor. “But that requires a leadership psychology that puts the employee first, because they will quickly see through it if you are just going through the motions. That kind of leadership is earned every day.”

But the benefit of being an IABC member goes beyond building a winning culture.

A big part of this is the opportunity to learn from colleagues. Taylor says there have been lots of times when he’s struggling with a challenge and he reaches out to a member of the IABC Ottawa network to help unlock it.

This can be less expensive than an alternative, such as hiring an accounting firm like Ernst and Young or a public relations firm like Hill+Knowlton.

“The IABC membership that you’ve already paid for pays for itself multiple times over in that regard.”

Membership in IABC Ottawa goes both ways, says Taylor.

Just as EDC’s corporate membership with IABC Ottawa sends a message to its employees about its commitment to them, communicators’ willingness to join up shows a commitment to their craft.

“If you’re serious about being a professional communicator then you should be serious about being a member of IABC.”

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